David Wernick – The Group Chairman
I’m David Wernick and I’m Chairman of the Wernick Group
My work in the family business commenced at the tender age of 11 when I started working in the stores under the supervision of a gentleman called Sid Ruffles. I was given the job of sorting and counting the bolts that and had got all mixed up, and I did that for the whole summer. I worked at various summer jobs within the company; working on the vehicles, creosoting the buildings, working in the mill cutting the timber, and making the site huts (as they were called in those days). I really saw every aspect of the manufacturing process.
When I commenced with the company full time after finishing university, I worked in a variety of departments, starting in the sales department, under a gentleman called Ray Hunt. He was a man of immense ability and had worked with us since the age of 15; in fact he eventually rose to become my joint Chief Executive in the 1990s and was the only non-family shareholder we ever had. He sadly passed away a few years ago, but his grandson joined us as a graduate trainee, and is presently a Depot Manager at our Wickford Hire Depot.
I trained under Ray and went from selling site huts and accommodation to construction companies around London to gradually selling more complex, modular buildings. After a period I moved into the construction department as a Contracts Manager and I eventually became the Senior Contracts Manager and Construction Director of the Group.
When we acquired Swiftplan in 1989 I was made Chairman of that company, and I really enjoyed my time there helping to develop the business. Under former owners, Taylor Woodrow, it was a loss-making concern, and we were very proud to turn it around into a profit-making business after just three months of ownership. I was ably assisted during that part of my early Chairman-ship by Eddie Shaw and Simon Reffell, both of whom have recently retired.
From there, I was appointed joint Chief Executive of the Group with Ray Hunt in the early 1990s and I became Chairman of the Group in 2011. So from the age of 21 (though I have no wish to give my age away) I have been working within the company full time for 38 years.
I think the company’s aims and values would be best summarised by saying we are a forward moving company; growing through both acquisition and internal growth, but at the same time we maintain the friendly atmosphere of a family company. I think it’s very important to have the two – because any company that is just driven forward and forgets the people that are instrumental in making that growth happen, soon becomes very unhappy indeed. It’s all about getting the balance between growth and having a friendly environment that people want to work in.
What differentiates us from our major competitors is that we are a private company. We retain the flexibility and speed of response of that kind of operation. That gives us a head-start over our main competitors, which are mostly owned by PLCs or venture capitalists, where the lines of communication are much longer and therefore much less responsive to client needs. As many of my fellow directors and managers know, I have an absolute dislike of bureaucracy. As we’ve grown as a company we’ve needed certain departments and people to implement and control our computer systems or our management systems, but I still think it’s essential to keep the lines of communication as short as possible. I insist that whatever systems we put in place, they keep the lines of communication short, and that they are fit for purpose.
I’d say the key to our success has been our ability to grow the company both organically and through acquisition, and to grow the management and employee structure so that the growth is contained within that structure without over-whelming it. Whilst maintaining all of that, we’ve kept the company at the same level of profitability per pound of turn-over, so we’ve grown without having to surrender our profitability. It’s those three things combined; growth, employee management and employee satisfaction that is very much the recipe for our success.
One of the things I want to emphasise about the Wernick Group is the input and the loyalty of our employees. I always say to our bankers and our lawyers that I can go and borrow money and find companies to buy; but all of that becomes worthless without the ability of our employees to buy into what we’re trying to achieve, and take the business forward in a cohesive and successful way. The growth of the company is in no short measure a great compliment to all the employees we have, both current and previous, and obviously we couldn’t achieve what we have achieved without them.
In the future I hope we’ll continue on the path we’ve been treading, but there’s a new generation of Executive and Management Teams in the company now; and where they see the business going will be for them to determine. However, I will add that I have confidence that the new generation will continue the cycle of growth we’ve been following for the past 25 years, while maintaining our private limited status and profitability. If we have that, and we continue to ensure that our employees derive pleasure and benefit from working for us, we will have a very bright future ahead of us.
Outside of work David enjoys reading,–and is known to never shy away from a friendly debate on politics. David can often be found cooking and entertaining, and while he may not be winning the Bake Off any time soon – he is known to be rather skilled with anything that goes on the barbeque – after a good marinating of course. David is also a keen skier and swimmer.